All Saints’ Day 2021

All Saints’ Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate men and women in whose lives the Church as a whole has seen the grace of God powerfully at work. In God’s grace, through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we may all in some way be Saints here on earth.  So today we have an opportunity to give thanks for that grace, and for the wonderful ends to which it shapes a human life; it is a time to be encouraged by the example of the Saints that have gone before and shown us the way, and to recall that sanctity may grow in the ordinary circumstances, as well as the extraordinary crises, of human living.  God has a wonderful habit of making the ordinary extraordinary.

We may also be reminded at this time that no Christian is solitary. Through baptism, we become members one of another in Christ, members of a company of Saints whose mutual belonging transcends death. Therefore, in remembering the Saints who have gone on before us, we might in our worship join with them, along with the whole heavenly host.

All of this speaks into the nature of redemption.  Redemption is a work of God’s grace; it is God who redeems us in Christ, and nothing further is required beyond what Christ has accomplished. We are called to wait for the final consummation of God’s new creation in Christ; those who are Christ’s, whether or not they have passed through death, are joined in prayer that God’s kingdom will be revealed finally and in all its fullness.

With that in mind, we have listened to 2 incredible readings this morning.  The first, from the book of Revelation, gives us some insight into what an answer to our prayers for the coming and revealing of God’s Kingdom might look like – that is, what the new heaven and the new earth will be like.  It’s worthwhile spending a little bit of time exploring the implications of that.

  • God does not make mistakes.  When God lovingly created this world, he knew what he was doing.  Yes, as a result of the fall, this world might now be broken – but that is not of God’s doing. Everything that God created is good.  In the end times, this world will not be tossed away and discarded.  It will be taken, transformed and redeemed.  It will be restored and renewed.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
  • That will involve a coming together of heaven and earth.  Part of that process will involve God almost literally shaking the hell out of this world.  All the wrongs will be righted, all the injustices will be dealt with.
  • We are presented with a glimpse of what that might be like:
    • God’s dwelling place will be among the people, and he will dwell with us.
    • He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
  • God’s justice and righteousness will prevail.  God exalted Jesus “to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)  Does that give you cause for hope and make you feel excited?
  • Jesus said. “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Jesus will accomplish all that he set out to accomplish.  It will be sufficient, complete, wholesome.  And he invites the thirsty – a people who I spoke about last Sunday – to drink from the water without cost from the spring of the water of life that we might never thirst.

The second reading from John’s gospel provides us with the account of Lazarus’ raising from the dead.  It is significant that earlier in that chapter, we are told that “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” (John 11:17)  In Jewish society and culture they believed that someone was well and truly dead if they had been dead for 4 days. I wonder if Jesus waited for that period of time on purpose, so that there might not be any doubt that he had genuinely raised Lazarus from the dead.

When he arrives though, we find that both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, ““LORD, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”” (John 11:21)  They were both convinced that Jesus would have been able to do something had Lazarus still been living, if he had got there earlier. But they had no idea that death might be reversible.

Seeing Mary weeping as well as the Jews who had joined them to offer comfort and solace, and knowing that his friend Lazarus was dead, not surprisingly Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” to the extent that we are presented with the shortest verse in the Bible…“Jesus wept.”  It wasn’t the only time that Jesus wept either.  God always weeps at the brokenness of this world.  There can be no doubt that Jesus was filled with compassion, something recognised by all present.

At first, Martha questioned what Jesus could possibly do…““But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.””  Jesus’ reply was profound, ““Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”” Jesus then instructed Lazarus to come out of the tomb and told those gathered to take off the grave clothes and let him go. St Augustine said, “Jesus had to call out Lazarus by name for if he hadn’t, all the dead would have come out of their graves!”  We must bear in mind that Lazarus was raised from the dead, not resurrected.  We may be raised from death to life.  However, we are resurrected into eternal life.

As Christians, and in God’s good grace, we have so much to look forward to.  We are invited to join with all the Saints at the Heavenly Banquet of the King, our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ.  We are reminded of that every time we break bread together and celebrate Holy Communion.  It is said that communion is like ‘hors d’oeuvres’ to the Heavenly Banquet.  We can be assured that the victory is Christ’s.  He has conquered sin and death once and for all, and God knows what he is doing – even if like Mary and Martha we don’t always recognise that.  We are invited to learn by the examples of the Saints, and those people of faith who have gone on before us.  We are invited to be awakened by God’s grace as he helps us journey into Sainthood.  Our Collect today says,

“Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
   in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you.” It is a great prayer.  We can be confident in Christ, knowing that the best is yet to come.  Amen

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